Reinier van der AartMohamed Benchellal in the Rijksmuseum
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 19:00
Fashion designer Mohamed Benchellal was awarded the Cultural Fund Fashion Stipend this evening in the Rijksmuseum. The designer from Amsterdam is the twelfth recipient of the most important fashion prize in the Netherlands. “A huge honor,” he told NOS.
Benchellal is known for his classic and predominantly simple designs, which are at the same time very distinct in shape. “A born couturier who managed to grow into an international phenomenon outside the usual stages and almost self-taught,” says the jury. “He conquers his place within the tradition of couture with a sculptural and maximalist form lexicon and visual technical ingenuity.”
Loved in the Middle East
Benchellal became captivated by fashion in the studio at his grandparents’ home in Lelystad. He trained at the Fashion Lyceum in Amsterdam and gained experience with fashion designer Reem Acra during a television show in Beirut. In 2015 he founded his own couture brand.
AFPBenchellal at an awards ceremony in Qatar in 2021
Initially, the Amsterdammer was mainly successful abroad. In recent years he has dressed actress Sharon Stone and singer Alicia Keys, among others. In 2020, he won the Vogue Arabia Fashion Prize, followed by fashion awards in Qatar and Dubai. “He serves the international audience,” says Vogue editor-in-chief Yeliz Çiçek. “In the Middle East they are very fond of him and his designs.”
Queen Máxima stood up for the designer when she appeared on Budget Day last year in a gray-blue creation by his hand, with a sculptural collar. Çiçek also wore his designs several times.
ANP Queen Máxima in a creation by Benchellal on Budget Day 2022
“I can only say that it is very special to experience the design process with him. He sees which fabric suits your body and he drapes it around you. He looks exactly where the lines should be to emphasize your shapes , to embrace your femininity. Like a sculptor,” she describes.
“An organic process,” Benchellal himself calls it. “I never know in advance what I will create. It comes from doing. Designing for me is just like breathing, I don’t have to think about it very much.”
‘Found my own form of success’
Now there is also the recognition of a Dutch jury. The Cultural Fund Fashion Stipend is both a lifetime achievement award and an encouragement for designers to further develop themselves artistically and commercially. The prize comes with a cash prize of 50,000 euros, from an anonymous donor. Previous winners include Claes Iversen, Ronald van der Kemp and Iris van Herpen.
“It is extra special to be able to celebrate my work in the country where I come from,” says Benchellal about the award. “I didn’t expect it at all. I never tried hard to fit in anywhere.”
APThe Jordanian Queen Rania (l) in an outfit by Benchellal (on a visit to Tokyo earlier this year)
“I have found my own form of success,” he continues. “I quickly discovered that I don’t have to dress the whole world. My dresses are unique pieces. I don’t have a large production, I get satisfaction from taking the time for each dress.”
A small operation with a big reach, Çiçek agrees. “He runs his business on his own. Many designers want to scale up, but he prefers to keep it in his own hands. He wants to be involved in every piece he makes from A to Z,” she says. “That makes him special, and people have rightly come to see that.”